Pot policy debate overblown?

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Conservative MP John Williamson’s recent flier (Sam Laidman/AQ)

The federal Liberal Party is making marijuana policy an issue going into the 2015 election. Last summer, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau revealed he had smoked marijuana and expressed his desire to legalize the plant. It has yet to make it into their election platform.

Now a Conservative MP representing New Brunswick South West has added fuel to that fire. John Williamson recently mailed a flier to constituents that simplifies the issue down to two options: “Drugs are illegal and should stay that way,” or “marijuana should be stocked on local store shelves.”

Vance Doerr is a third year criminology major at St. Thomas. He believes the flier serves no purpose because most voters already have their minds made up about marijuana. He also believes the statement by Williamson that Trudeau “visited schools to tell kids that marijuana should be legal” is too simple.

“There’s a lot of people out there who obviously wouldn’t care if Justin Trudeau showed up to their kids’ high school and talked about marijuana. It’s not like he’s going to talk about how great pot is. He’s going to talk about the facts,” Doerr said.

Many questions still remain about whether, when and how legalization would happen. All three parties hold different ideas on what to do about marijuana, with the NDP maintaining a commitment to decriminalization. All that can be said with certainty is that these politicians have people thinking about the issue.

STU political science professor Tom Bateman and Doerr both believe it won’t be a big deal in the next federal election. Bateman sees it as a positive way for the Liberal Leader to deal with his admittance to smoking marijuana.

“I think he chose to get ahead of the problems that may come to him if someone else disclosed that he had smoked dope. So he got ahead of it by saying, ‘Okay, time for us to wake up and arrive at a rational policy on this substance, and here’s my policy,’” Bateman said. “The people… for whom relaxing marijuana laws is a really big issue, are also the people who wouldn’t vote for the Liberals, anyway. So it won’t affect much.”

Much evidence suggests enforcing the current law is not enough to stop Canadians from lighting up. The UN’s department on drugs and crime found over one in ten Canadians smoked weed in 2009. In the same year, the World Health Organization found that over a quarter of 15-year-old respondents in the country tried it.

Even more polls are taken on Canada’s thoughts on marijuana law. A recent Forum Research poll found more than two thirds of respondents supported either decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana, at 34 per cent of respondents’ votes, or legalization and taxation, at 36 per cent.

The issue then, must not be Canadian’s acceptance of marijuana. Bateman thinks legalization is an experiment Canada isn’t ready for. He says it would be wise of Trudeau to monitor the situation in Colorado, and soon, Washington, if he truly wants to legalize weed.

“If Coloradans now decline into stupors, and the state just becomes a complete mess, well, that will be a sign to other states, ‘Gee, well maybe we should not do what they’ve done.’ But if Colorado finds it’s got a fantastic stream of revenue, organized crime goes down, other addictive substances are no longer consumed … maybe this experiment is worth undertaking in other jurisdictions,” he said.

If early reports are an indication, Colorado has indeed found a steady stream of revenue. Last month was the state’s first month of legal marijuana sales to the public, and an independent survey performed by one half of the state’s pot stores found they had collected $1.2 million in taxes. Colorado has a population of just over 5 million people.

Despite this, 21-year-old Doerr doesn’t hinge his vote on pot policy at all. He said he most likely be voting Liberal, even though the NDP’s view on marijuana most closely matches his.

“I don’t know about the legalization of it, because it would be really hard to make that work, and we still don’t really know how it will work. I’d like to see it decriminalized. That would be simple. But it’s not really effecting my vote,” he said.

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